body image

The World of Body Image: New Year, New You?

Happy 2016! It’s that time of year again when the Slimming World adverts start popping up and the pressures to undo all the fun we had over Christmas piles on our shoulders. Did you eat your own body weight in mince pies? Good effort. So what if you over indulged at Christmas, it’s not like you eat that stuff all year round. Feeling guilty about the food we’ve already eaten is really pointless: we can’t change it. It can be hard to stay body positive at this time of year, but I’m not going to let the media make me feel ashamed for having a good time over Christmas. You don’t need to change yourself in 2016 because society tells you to. It’s your body; your decision.

Magazines are full of pictures of toned bodies and bold slogans on the cover like ‘Eat up, slim down,’ giving an unrealistic view of health. People seem to be searching for some kind of super-power so they can eat five Big Macs and magically get a ‘celebrity body.’ But those bodies don’t really exist; they’re the product of expensive personal trainers, make-up artists and clever lighting, not to mention a generous wave of the magical airbrush. We cannot aspire to look like pictures in magazines because they are not real. The sad thing is, I think most people know that by now, but they want it anyway. Our society has normalized ‘perfect’ naked women on the front of magazines, on billboards, everywhere. Considering I live in a country which is usually bloody cold, I do see a hell of a lot of bare female flesh around, always being used to sell something.

Tabloids seem to run stories about women in bikinis whenever they can, which is hardly news. The funny thing is, if a woman with a ‘perfect’ body (which in media-land, as we know, means she’s got a tiny stomach and big boobs) is the focus of an article she gets just as much body-shaming it seems: ‘she’s too skinny’ or ‘get over yourself, love’ being some of the things I’ve seen in the comments sections. Yet if a celebrity puts on weight, by God she’s disgusting and fat. She has let herself go, she’s out of control and clearly insane. But we can never be perfect, and people will be judgemental no matter what we look like so there is no point in trying to please everyone else.

Let’s face it, new year’s resolutions are bollocks. People make them because everyone else does. For me, it started in school. The first day back after Christmas, the question everyone excitedly asked was, “what’s your new year’s resolution?” and not just students, teachers too. In fact, I think we even wrote resolutions in class. I always felt like I’d not quite been good enough in the previous year and I had to do better in the coming year. Teachers seemed to have a way of asking you want you wanted only to somehow turn it around to what they thought was realistic for you. The resolutions had to be something acceptable, sens!ible and normal.

I didn’t like to tell people my new year’s resolutions as I thought I might give the wrong answer. And underneath I knew I didn’t really have a choice, one of them had to be ‘lose weight’: it was expected of me as the fat girl in the class. Everyone around me had similar resolutions, even if they weren’t fat, so it seemed normal. This is what we did every year; we over-indulged a bit in December and were expected to feel guilty about it for the rest of the year until we did it all over again. I’ve never quite understood our issue as human beings with not letting ourselves indulge every now and then. I spent a lot more time feeling regret and shame for eating than I did enjoying the food.

The thing I really don’t like about resolutions, as much as there can be positive intentions behind them, is the lack of sincerity. It’s often like we’re not doing it for our own benefit, but to prove to everyone else that we are trying to be a better person. I’d prefer to make my own positive affirmations, on my own terms, in my own time. My new intention is to first sit back and take a good look at what I’ve done in the previous year. This year, to help me do this, I’ve decided to set up a spreadsheet (such a geek) to record my achievements. We often forget quite how much we achieve in a year, so I think this might be a good way to remember. We can only set positive intentions for the future when we have respect and compassion for ourselves. That way, the intentions end up being about bettering ourselves, not changing ourselves to live up to other people’s standards.

Ignore the rules and expectations of others; it’s your body and your life so just do what you like. Set your goals when you are feeling kind – try to be compassionate instead of being ashamed or critical of yourself. And finally, don’t give yourself a hard time if it doesn’t go to plan: life would be so boring if it did.

Mel Ciavucco
Author. Blogger. Screenwriter. Feminist.
Likes cooking, yoga and cinema but not all at the same time.

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